Government Admits Fracking Will Not Solve Energy Crisis (But Will Push Ahead Anyway)

Summary

  • Government admits no vast shale gas reserves
  • May not even be economic to extract
  • No plans to stop fracking however
  • Even limited exploitation will require hundreds of wells
  • CBM and UCG are a much larger threat
  • Present system is unsustainable

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The latest in a series of drip fed propaganda pieces designed to ease the introduction of Shale Gas extraction to the UK came this Sunday with a story in the Independent on Sunday revealing insider details of a recent meeting in Downing Street between government ministers and energy companies. The story discusses the “revelations” (presumably to people who only read industry press releases) that “UK’s reserves were smaller than first thought and could be uneconomical to extract” and that “shale gas has the potential to be deeply controversial without securing major benefits in lowering carbon emissions or reducing energy costs”.

The title of the piece “Government backtracks on fracking” might give the impression that they are considering halting the destructive practice of shale gas extraction in the UK but a more careful reading of the story finds that while they are “rejected shale gas technology as a solution to Britain’s energy crisis, conceding it will do little to cut bills or keep the lights on” it is just a “question of how much we can get out, and at what cost”. They admit that industry experts are “clear that it would take time for shale gas to be exploited in the UK” and are cautioning that the reserves “are not quite as large as some have been speculating”.

Drilling site in Lancashire owned by Cuadrilla Resources where fracking seems likely to restart soon

Despite this there is no hint that the government will stand in the way of Cuadrilla Resources (or any other company) in their attempts to roll out Shale Gas extraction in the UK (and profit from the resulting destruction). While some will cheer the inevitable admission that industry claims of cheap gas for all are just a load of overblown hype, the reality is that Shale Gas extraction requires high gas prices to be viable (witness the crumbling of the shale gas boom in the US as a result low gas prices). Acknowledging that fact cannot be seen itself as being anti-Shale. From the point of view of energy companies there may in fact be more money to be made from selling small amounts of very expensive gas than there would be from selling large amounts of cheap gas.

Given that even limited exploitation of Shale Gas in the UK will result in the drilling of hundreds, or even thousands, of wells across large areas of countryside, with all the resultant impact on communities and the environment, the admission that it is completely pointless (if you aren’t one of the companies profiting from it) will be a kick in the teeth to the people affected by it. The very nature of these extreme extraction methods, like Shale Gas, is that they take a lot more effort and result in a lot more damage, for a lot less in return. Any amount of Shale Gas extraction will therefore result in large amounts of destruction to all concerned.

Estimated reserves of unconventional gas in UK in billions of cubic metres (UK gas consumption is around 100 bcm per year)

Even more importantly Shale Gas is only one of a whole tidal wave of extreme energy extraction processes that are sweeping across the globe. From Tar Sands to Deep Water Drilling these processes are already destroying the environment and eating up an increasing proportion of global GDP in the process. In the UK Coal Bed Methane (CBM), fracking coal seams rather than shale rock for gas, and Underground Coal Gasification (UCG), the even more insane process of setting fire to coal seams underground and piping the resulting gas to the surface, are far more of a threat than Shale Gas but have so far received very little attention. Doubtless part of reason for the timing of these revelations is to diffuse opposition to Shale Gas ahead of the end of the government’s “consultation” on Friday.

None of this bodes well for the publication of a draft Energy Bill on Tuesday. The predictable focus on trying to maintain the present unsustainable system of energy production and consumption at any cost rather than making a sensible transition to a lower impact and more human centred way of living, is a dead end with the emphasis on the dead. Unfortunately while these efforts to carry on with business as usual are doomed to eventual failure there is plenty of scope for them to do untold damage to both the human and natural world before they are proved to be pointless.

Nuclear and Coal, such as this Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) test near Hanna, Wyoming (1987-1988), are the main options on the table

In fact a leading article in the same paper exhorts the government to “try harder to make nuclear power and clean coal work for the long term” and bemoans the “disappointing progress towards workable carbon capture and storage”. If it is not stopped what we have to look forward to is an increasingly extreme energy sector growing like a cancer within society and squeezing out all other more productive activities, while it progressively destroys our environment with toxic emissions, catastrophic destabilisation of the climate, and ever growing amounts of nuclear waste.

Meanwhile in order to blunt criticism of this insane course of action a wide array of “extreme greenwash” will be deployed to make it all seem okay. From the promise that we will be able to hide all our carbon emissions under the rug (as soon as we get CCS technology working), through the bio-energy revolution, to the bunch of madcap schemes for magically fixing the climate system if it all starts to fall apart that is geo-engineering, techno-fixes will be proffered in abundance to the predicament we face. That none of them are remotely workable is beside the point provided people can be convinced to believe long enough to not fight for a better future.

Examples of more sustainable ways of living abound like the Lammas Eco Village in Pembrokeshire

In a world where fossil fuels are fast depleting there are only two options, push on as we have done for the last few centuries down the dead end that we have built for ourselves towards a world that is totally uninhabitable or totally rethink the way we live. The magical solution where no change is required does not exist. The only silver lining in the storm clouds that surround us is that it is no longer the case that we are still about arguing for change against the status quo. Business as usual now requires constant and very negative changes to the way we live. We cannot stay where we are or even go back to how things were just a few years ago.

With increasingly limited energy available to us the real choice is whether we sacrifice the present system, i.e. corporations, industry, militarism, consumerism, advertising etc., to allow us to maintain (and in many cases rebuild) what really matters. The present system requires unsustainable amounts of energy and cannot continue for much longer. On the other hand we can sacrifice our communities, environment, health, freedom, leisure and sanity in order to try to prop up a system that is eventually doomed to failure anyway. While presented like this the choice seems obvious, convincing people that they have a choice at all will be the most difficult task.

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